By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School
Sycamore school is dedicated to the development of academically gifted children. We also believe that character development is as important as cognitive development. We want our students to use their gifts for good. This strong belief has lead to the identification of several character traits that all grade levels in all divisions weave into daily activities. These character traits are our core values. They are identified and explained below:
Respect: Children are taught to respect themselves, others, time, and property
Empathy: Stand in someone else’s shoes. How do you feel?
Moral Courage: When you know that something is either right or wrong, speak out and do the right thing. Sometimes you may be the only one who will.
Relationships: Learn to develop and value positive relationships.
Under the leadership of their teachers, the Kindergarten children are bringing these core values into their study of Pilgrim Communities.
Throughout the unit, the children learned many details about the history of the Pilgrims’ journey, how they formed and governed their new community, what they wore and ate. They also learned about the need for everyone to work together and share the hard work that was required to maintain a strong community. Along with all of this factual information, Sycamore’s core values were woven into the unit. As a final project, the children discussed ways that they could help other people who are in need. They located a local food pantry and took a field trip there in order to understand how it is organized and why it is needed. Soliciting the help of the Sycamore community, they collected food items for the pantry, delivered the items and helped stock the pantry shelves. They certainly learned about forming positive relationships with people, organizations, and an entire community.
The children learned who the Pilgrims were and why they are called Pilgrims. They learned about the injustices that this group of people endured before boarding the Mayflower and sailing for America. After examining the reasons for the exodus to the New World, the children understood and respected the courage that the Pilgrims possessed. They had to be dedicated and courageous people in order to maintain their values, set sail, and remain at sea for many months. The Pilgrims finally landed in the New World and began to settle the Plymouth colony. There were more problems to be faced and many people did not survive the hardships. Fortunately, the Pilgrims were befriended by the Wompanoag tribe and that made all the difference to their ultimate survival. The empathy that these Native Americans were able to feel for the Pilgrims allowed them to put aside their distrust of these strangers and do what they felt was right. The Wompanoags helped the Pilgrims survive by teaching them how to raise crops and endure the harsh winters of the New World. The tribe shared their knowledge, skill, physical labor, and material belongings in order to help the pilgrims who were so desperately in need.
The story of the first Thanksgiving is a favorite of many Americans, but there was more to that celebration than food and games. It was the celebration of two very different groups of people who came together through respect, empathy and moral courage in order to forge a positive relationship. They used their knowledge and gifts for good.
By Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School
How many of you had chores for which you were responsible as a child? How many of you require your children to do chores? In a recent study, 82% of U.S. adults with children reported that they were responsible for chores as a child, but only 28% reported requiring their own children to do chores. Why has there been this change over time? Perhaps it’s because many of our children have “to-do lists” as long as our own and we hesitate to add to those lists. Our lives are already hurried and frantic, so why pile on?
There is importance and lasting value in teaching and requiring our children to be responsible for chores. Why? I think the following list is a least a good start to the argument for requiring chores:
• Children learn the idea that “we’re all in this together.” Being part of a family demands contributions from everyone, and the responsibility should be shared.
• Children learn a sense of mastery, accomplishment, responsibility, and self-reliance.
• They learn empathy by understanding everything it takes to keep a family and a household running smoothly.
• They learn the satisfaction that comes from serving and responding to the needs of others.
• They enhance their own self-esteem by being valuable contributors to a larger cause.
• They learn important skills that will serve them well throughout life.
• They may even have fun!
Children’s chores should start early—even at age 2 or 3. It will be harder to implement a system of chores as children get older. Use your own judgment about what your child may be capable of doing. Following are ideas that even very young children can handle as chores:
• Put toys away
• Feed pets
• Put clothes in hamper
• Straighten books and magazines
• Empty wastebaskets
• Bring in the mail or newspaper
• Set and clear the table
• Water plants and flowers
• Load/unload the dishwasher
• Make their bed
• Sort, wash, fold, or put away laundry
• Rake leaves
• Put away groceries
• Help prepare meals
• Walk pets
• Mop floor
• Wash car
• Clean bathroom
• Change sheets
When implementing a system of chores, the following tips might be helpful:
• Keep chores realistic in light of a child’s capabilities.
• Schedule a time for chores.
• At times, give children a choice of chores.
• Create “levels” of chores, so they will know as they master one, they can take on a new, harder responsibility.
• Watch your language. Make sure you are not modeling complaining about chores.
• Don’t insist on perfection, and don’t micromanage or re-do chores.
• First teach your child how to do a specific chore; do it together; then turn it over to your child. Be specific about what is required for a specific chore.
• Be consistent in your expectations.
• Don’t nag. Use the “when/then” method of accountability. (e.g. “When the bathroom is clean, then you may go play with your friends.”)
• A weekly chart can be a good way of tracking accountability. Rewards should be praise, family time, etc.—not physical prizes.
Studies tell us that children who have regular chores at home are more responsible and successful adults—both academically and in everyday life. I strongly recommend that chores become a part of your child’s experience.
By Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School
Parents and teachers that know me, know that I preach – I mean talk! – about fostering resilience in children as often as possible. Sometimes people act like resilience is a trait that someone either does or doesn’t have. I think resilience is a process that can and should be taught and fostered. I also think it is important for this to happen both at home and in school.
There is a lot of buzz about grit in the education world today, and sometimes people interchange grit and resilience. I believe they are different. Where grit focuses on perseverance, which is also important, resilience focuses on the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience can be learned and developed, and as we learn we increase the range of strategies we can use when things get difficult. Everyone experiences difficulties and times of distress, but people can improve the way they respond in those times to increase their chance to be successful when they move forward.
For teachers and parents to help children develop resilience, they must first form strong connections with them. Those connections need to give children a sense of belonging and show them that they have both physical and emotional security within the home or classroom. The adults are both a source of support and a model for the strategies and behaviors that resilient people have.
Children need help in developing competence through experiences. They need to learn that they can make responsible choices and trust their judgment. Adults can help children learn to identify and build upon their strengths, facilitate their thinking and decision making, and allow them to make mistakes and try again.
As children begin to realize their own competence they build confidence in their abilities. Confidence does not come from adults telling children they are special or wonderful. It comes from children experiencing challenges and learning to cope with them. Adults should focus on children’s qualities of fairness, persistence, kindness, etc., not just on their achievements, and should praise specific and authentic qualities and achievements. For example, instead of saying, “You’re such a great artist!” a parent or teacher could say, “Your choices of colors in your painting are so bright. Look at the variety of flowers and colors you used!”
For children to develop competence they need to develop a strong character. When children have a sense of right and wrong, display caring and kindness, and show respect to others, they have a strong sense of self-worth. Adults should help children understand how certain behaviors affect other people in good and bad ways. It’s important for children to identify and clarify their values so they can draw upon them as they make decisions about their actions. Tying into character, it can be a powerful lesson for children to see that their personal contributions can make the world a better place. They can gain a sense of purpose that can be motivating and enhance their competence and character.
Finally, as children gain competence and confidence, they begin to see that they can control the outcomes of their decisions and actions. They start to realize that they have the ability to bounce back if those outcomes are not what they expect or want. Parents and teachers need to give children as much personal control as the children can handle. If the adults make too many decisions children can feel as if everything happens to them and that the control is external, instead of learning that they have internal control over outcomes and responses to those outcomes. Developing a sense of autonomy helps children deal with unexpected issues that arise and helps them cope with challenges.
Here are some things parents and teachers can do to help children become resilient:
• Let children know they matter.
• Don’t accommodate every need; let children try to solve problems on their own first.
• Avoid eliminating all risk. Allow appropriate risks and age-appropriate freedoms.
• Give children responsibilities; they need opportunities to learn, not lectures.
• Help children set realistic goals for themselves.
• Teach children to problem-solve. When they have a problem, ask them what they think they can do to solve it.
• Avoid asking “why” questions. Ask “how” questions. (Don’t ask, “Why did you do that?” Ask, “Since you did that, how are you going to fix it?”)
• Don’t provide all the answers. Saying, “I don’t know,” and following up with, “What do you think?” is a good alternative.
• Let children make mistakes and teach them that mistakes are an opportunity to learn. They need to learn that mistakes are not the end point, but the point to figure out what to do next.
• Help children manage their emotions. All emotions are okay, but they need to learn how to respond to them.
• Model resiliency. Admit your mistakes, talk through how you’ll deal with them.
• Help children identify and develop their strengths.
Parents and teachers can work together to guide children and teach them to be resilient. Being able to bounce back from adversity and have the skills to learn from mistakes and try again will help them in all aspects of their lives.
By Patrick Juday / Chief Financial Officer / Sycamore School
This is actually a Mission Moment that I shared with the Board of Trustees last spring.
Every year I have been presenting my fossil collection to the preschool and fourth grade classes as a guest speaker. The fossils I show include some I collected in Indiana such as horn corals, brachiopods and trilobites. There are also some reproductions, fossils I’ve purchased out of state, and gifts from friends. I introduce myself as the “money man” at Sycamore, tell them how I became a huge fan of dinosaurs when I was their age, and proceed to talk about the ancient animals that roamed the State of Indiana a very long time ago. The presentation ends with the students able to handle fossils out of plastic bins, providing a tactile first-hand experience with actual fossils from their home state.
Last spring the preschool presentation date came up on me sooner than I expected. With work going on with the campaign and construction project, I was actually considering cancelling my fossil presentation. I stuck it out and did it (although I did miss the original time and had to reschedule for later in the morning). As I proceeded to present the fossils, I was reminded of the wonderful experiences I had in previous years, which is to see these bright faces shine as they asked me questions and handled the fossils. This time I had three very distinctive and memorable responses from the preschoolers.
• The reward of a child’s honesty – One student came up to me with a fossil, asking me what it was. As I started to tell him, he pulled back and started waving his hand over his nose. Embarrassed, I asked him if I had coffee breath, and holding his nose he nodded yes. I apologized and told him I would tell him without breathing his way, knowing I would never forget that amusing moment.
• The reward of a child’s affection – Another student came up to ask about a fossil they pulled from a bin. When I finished explaining what the animal was, the child gave me just an incredible smile. Teachers may experience this nearly every day, but CFO’s don’t, and it has stuck with me.
• The reward of a child’s innovation – A day after my presentation, one of the preschoolers came to my office with an assistant and showed me a very nice fossil coral he had found. He had a plan to create a piece of artwork with it; specifically, a scorpion. He and the teacher weren’t sure if he should do that with a fossil, and I told him I thought it would be a great idea. A few days later he and the assistant came back with a stunning scorpion, with the legs, claws and stinger arching beautifully over the back made of clay and fashioned quite accurately around the fossil coral making up the body. It was very well made, it looked like it could have been created by a fourth grader, and the student was rightfully very proud of his creation.
I hope to continue to contribute in this small way in the classroom as it helps me to connect directly with students. I certainly won’t ever forget these experiences and the rewards they’ve given me and the lessons I’ve learned from them.
By Holly Lee / Director of Advancement / Sycamore School
No matter how much I believed that Sycamore was the right choice for my children, actually writing the tuition checks was often a painful exercise. I found it interesting to learn that tuition did not cover the full cost of educating my children. AND, this is a typical independent school model.
Most independent schools operate on “ the gap” model. The gap is the difference between tuition and the actual cost of educating a student at Sycamore School. This year the gap is 6% of our operating budget. The balance of our needed income comes from other sources, including our savings interest and the Sycamore Fund, which provides the largest source of that income.
To cover the actual cost of educating a student would require a significant tuition increase. The Board believes that it is better to ask our community to contribute to the difference through philanthropic gifts, which are tax deductible. This year the difference between tuition and the cost to educate one student is $1,472.
While some parents and grandparents can afford to give the difference between their students’ tuition and actual costs, there are others in our community that cannot afford to give at that level. However, every gift is valuable. A high participation rate amongst our staff, parents, past parents and alumni is often a factor as the school seeks foundation grants.
If we did not fund this “extra” $400,000 each year, Sycamore would lose many things that make Sycamore what it is today. For example, the Sycamore Fund helps provide for professional development, financial aid, 70+ field trips every year and 80+ classroom speakers. Sycamore is a special place that offers a unique education for gifted students and this would not be possible without the generosity of our whole community.
By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School
When we talk about our Early Childhood curriculum we emphasize the development of higher level thinking skills. It is not always easy to understand what we mean by that or how it works with our young children. I will explain what is meant by higher level thinking skills, why they are important and how we help young children develop these skills.
In order to understand higher level thinking skills, it is necessary to also understand Bloom’s Taxonomy of Thinking. Benjamin S. Bloom presented his ideas for effective teaching in his book Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. His theory presented six levels of thinking. Beginning with the simplest thought process to the most complex, I will list them below. There is a brief explanation for each level.
Remembering: A child will recall information that was learned at an earlier time.
Understanding: A child will demonstrate understanding of a concept by restating the concept in his or her own words.
Applying: A child will use previous knowledge to solve a new problem through implementation or the execution of a new procedure.
Analyzing: A child will identify the components of a problem or situation and determine how the components relate to one another.
Evaluating: A child will be able to make judgments based on criteria or standards.
Creating: A child will form a new idea, product, or a way of viewing a situation.
Teachers bring these thinking skills to the classroom by presenting information to the children on a wide variety of unit topics that give the children opportunities to explore the world in which they live. The teachers will ask questions of the children that encourage them to use the higher level thinking skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
We will examine the use of Bloom’s taxonomy during the study of a unit on Pets. There will be examples of questions, activities, or products to illustrate each of the 6 levels of thought.
Remembering: Tell me what you know about animals that are pets? This question will invite children to examine the nature of a pet as well as to name the animals that people have as pets.
Understanding: Let’s pretend that you own a pet store and I am shopping for a pet. I tell you that I want a giraffe to take home as my pet. What would you tell me about my decision? This discussion will invite children to explain why a giraffe is not a good idea and offer suggestions for a better choice.
Applying: Talk with the children about the pets that they have. They will probably already have shared this information. List all of the pets on the board. If a child does not have a pet, ask them what pet they would like to adopt for the assignment. After all the pets are listed, separate them into groups according to the type of animal. Create a bar graph that represents all the pets that the classroom students have or have adopted for the assignment. The children could also visit the other grade level classroom and survey the group, then create another bar graph. Comparisons could be drawn between the two graphs and the information that is shown.
Analysis: Plan a trip to the pet store. Separate the children into groups and assign them each a type of pet. Introduce the vocabulary words mammal, amphibian, and reptile. Each group will research the care of the pet and list all of the items needed to keep the animal healthy and cared for. Later, the groups will report their findings to the whole class. Be sure that there is a teacher or a parent to guide the children through this activity. This activity could be differentiated for children who are ready to understand money and total the cost of their pet’s care.
Evaluating: After the students have reported their findings from the pet store, ask the children which type of pet they would prefer and why?
Creating: The children are invited to create a pretend pet that they would like to have. They may draw or use play dough. The child will dictate to the teacher the name of the animal, tell one or two very unique things about the animal, and describe what it eats and how to care for it. The finished product and dictated story could be displayed in the hallway or classroom.
As you have read through the thought processes, I hope you see the intellectual value of expecting higher level thinking skills. These skills need to go beyond remembering, listing, reciting, or defining. We want children to think deeper and delve more deeply into every subject; even something as simple as a pet.
By Diane Borgmann / Head of School / Sycamore School
What’s a parent to do when it comes to the decision whether or not to give your child an allowance?
There are generally two possible reasons that you might decide to give your child an allowance: 1) to reward him/her for chores, etc.; or 2) to teach him/her to manage money. I am a proponent of the second school of thought. I believe all children should have chores at home for which they’re responsible, just to contribute to the family and grow in independence and responsibility. I believe that learning to manage money is something every child needs to learn, and managing an allowance can be a great way to teach money management.
First of all, an understanding needs to be reached about what things you provide for your child because you are the parent (clothes, school supplies, personal care items, food, etc.) and an understanding of what are “extras” (toys, movies, snacks, video games, etc.). Once you’ve clarified that, then you can move toward an agreement regarding an allowance. I suggest that kids should be responsible for the “extras,” and they shouldn’t have enough money for a lot of “extras.” This will foster learning of decision-making skills and delayed gratification.
You can decide when your child is ready for an allowance and how much it should be. At the age of six, I think most children are ready to have an allowance, and they should get “raises” as they get older. They should have a clear idea of what their allowance is used for, and I believe they should immediately start learning to save some money, give some money away, and spend some money.
The spending part is usually the easiest! Specify from the beginning what percent of their income should be saved and what percentage should be given away; the rest is spending money. Have a system for them to divide their money into spending, saving, and giving away funds. For young children, this should be concrete; in other words, they need to see the money. I think three envelopes or jars for the three funds often works well.
Some children will spend all of their spending money every week. Through this practice, they’ll learn that they will never have money for a bigger “extra” they want. They will feel powerful and gratified when they realize they can save their spending money to buy a big item they want at a later date. This lesson, however, is one they should be allowed to learn on their own through experience. If a parent gives in and purchases an “extra,” then the child doesn’t learn to delay gratification.
Learning to save has its obvious merits. Being required to save a certain amount imposes some discipline a child might never develop if he/she were allowed to spend everything. We all know adults who have never developed this kind of discipline and lead lives full of financial risk.
Learning to give money away connects children to the larger world. They can become part of something bigger than themselves. Depending on your family culture and values, you may want to specify a destination for the money, or part of the money, they give away. They may also discover causes and passions of their own that they want to support. Starting the practice of charitable giving as children creates philanthropic adults.
I believe giving children an allowance affords an opportunity to build independence, responsibility, decision-making skills, self-discipline, and empathy. It can provide parents a powerful tool when employed thoughtfully and consistently.
Dr. Susan Karpicke / Director of Admissions and Counselor / Sycamore School
Intelligence tests can provide important information about intellectual potential that is often used when identifying gifted children. Here are some ideas to help make the IQ testing experience a positive one for your child.
Before the test
Find an examiner with experience testing gifted children. Gifted kids can be tricky to test if they are not risk-takers or tend to be perfectionistic. Look for an examiner who has evaluated gifted children, is good at building rapport with kids, and who has a warm, genuine demeanor.
If your child is nervous about the testing contact the examiner to see if you can arrange for your child to meet the examiner and see the facility before the testing. It often comforts gifted kids to know what to expect before they enter into a new situation.
Don’t tell your child that he/she is going to play “games” with someone. Although the testing activities are fun for most kids, you don’t want your child to expect to play his or her favorite game. If you need help explaining the testing to your child, contact your examiner for ideas on how to present the topic accurately and realistically.
Day of the test
Do not take a sick child to be tested. You will be wasting your time and money. Reschedule for a time when your child is healthy.
Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep the night before the testing. A well-rested, relaxed child is likely to perform better and enjoy the testing experience more than a child who is tired and irritable
Make sure your child eats an appropriate meal before the testing. Again, you want your child to feel his or her best when in the testing situation.
Although it is interesting to watch a child be tested most kids do best if their parents are not in the room. Follow the examiner’s advice about where you should wait while your child is tested.
Anxiety can be contagious. If you are anxious about the testing your child will notice. Try to contain your own anxiety. If necessary, consider having another trusted adult take your child to the evaluation.
After the test
If you have questions, or simply don’t understand the results, call the examiner directly for an explanation.
Sometimes young children don’t test accurately because they are young children. They can be wiggly, inattentive, moody, sleepy, or hungry. All of these factors can affect results.
Retest if necessary. Sometimes we simply have inflated ideas of what our kids are capable of. But there are also times when you truly believe the results you are seeing really do not reflect your child. If that is the case, discuss your thoughts with the examiner. Your child can be re-tested with the same test after a waiting period (to eliminate any practice effect) or may be tested again sooner if a different IQ test is used.
Put the results in perspective. An IQ test, like any other test, simply measures your child’s performance during a particular moment in time. If you have a great examiner, the proper testing environment, and a cooperative kid, you may get a meaningful score. Ideally the results will help you understand your child’s intellectual potential, and assist you in making appropriate educational choices.
Sycamore School / Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence in Gifted Education
By Glenna Lykens / Head of Lower School / Sycamore School
Much of the conversation revolving around education in our nation today focuses on standards. Discussion arises about what those standards should be and if those standards should be content or process. Defining those categories can also cause discussion. I define content standards as those that describe what students should know and be able to do. Process standards describe skills that help students enhance the process of learning. At Sycamore we focus on both, but I think teachers help their students most when they teach them the thinking skills and processes needed to be successful long after they leave our school. Today I’d like to talk about one of those process skills.
Gifted students often learn new concepts quickly, enjoy solving problems, and think about things more intensely and deeply. Because of these traits gifted students benefit from learning and developing critical thinking skills. One definition of critical thinking is the ability to use logic and reasoning to solve problems. Though the definition sounds simple, teachers need to use direct instruction of those skills and find ways to integrate critical thinking into all areas of the curriculum.
Strong critical thinking skills can help students identify and solve problems, interpret and analyze information, ask relevant questions, compare and contrast, make connections, assess and revise, draw conclusions, explain and defend their thinking, and evaluate their thinking when new information is presented. Thinking critically can be taught, it can be learned, and it can improve with practice.
Teachers can integrate critical thinking into lessons of all disciplines by teaching in-depth questioning and evaluation of information and the sources of the information. They need to act as facilitators to encourage deeper discussions and to teach that there is not always one right answer.
At Sycamore, here are a few ways educators teach and encourage critical thinking:
- They ask open-ended questions. These do not have one right answer. Teachers frame their units around essential questions to get students thinking right away. Examples are: “What do good readers do?” “What makes a great story?” “Is it important for scientists to record and share their data?” “What can we learn from the past?”
- They teach students to categorize and classify. This teaches students to identify and sort, and to decide upon the set of rules to guide them in that process.
- They have students work in groups. This helps students learn to listen and evaluate what others say, to explain and defend their thinking, and to realize that there can be multiple answers to problems or multiple paths to solving a problem.
- They teach students to make decisions. Students learn to consider options, weigh pros and cons, evaluate choices, and then reflect and assess their decision later.
- They teach students to look for patterns. This can be done through observation, through making connections, or through looking for commonalities.
Parents can help their children develop critical thinking skills at home. It’s important for parents to engage their children in discussions. Encourage them to ask questions, brainstorm ideas, explain and clarify their thoughts, and listen to others’ ideas. Ask children higher-level questions. What would happen if…? Why is…important? What is the difference between…and…? Which is better, and why? Do you agree or disagree, and why?
Play is a great way to develop critical thinking skills. Imaginary play is one way to practice thinking, creating, solving problems, and assessing. There are great games that promote critical thinking and problem solving. Some of my favorites are Mastermind, checkers, chess, Connect Four, Qwirkle, and Set. A great website that focuses on thinking games and activities is Mindware.
Reading and writing are both areas that parents can encourage and participate in to help children stretch in their thinking skills. Read together with your children, discuss the book (remember to focus on the higher-level questions), and encourage your children to journal about the books they read.
Parents should let children try to solve their own problems. Provide enough information to guide them, but ask them to consider ways to solve their problems. Support them and help them if they need to research to find answers. Encourage independence and resilience when they encounter roadblocks instead of solving their problems for them. You will help them in the short run and the long run by doing some of these suggestions!
#gifted #GiftedEd #thinking #sycamoreschool
By Francine Clayton / Head of Early Childhood / Sycamore School
“All they do is play all day. When are they going to learn something?”
I can answer that question.
Play is children’s work. Although adults also need time to play, children learn the skills they will need to navigate the world as adults through play. Some of those valuable skills are negotiation, cooperation, organization, pre-planning, self-regulation, critical thinking, creativity, math and reading skills, and fine motor skills for handwriting, creating projects, designing a building, or bringing a new invention into being.
Learning centers are an integral part of all early childhood classrooms. Teachers create these areas in their classrooms in order to provide materials that reflect the educational needs of their students. When you walk into a classroom and observe children working in these centers, it will look as if they are playing. They are actually participating in a well- organized and thoughtfully planned lesson that the teacher has created for her particular group of students. This center time has involved the selection of differentiated materials, continuous assessment of the students, and much pre-planning on the part of the teacher.
I will list center areas that you will see in our classrooms and indicate the materials that you will find there, and explain why these centers and materials are important for rigorous and developmentally appropriate instruction.
• Materials: books that are both fiction and non-fiction. Picture books, beginning reading books and books with a variety of reading levels that will meet the skill level of early readers. These materials will change to reflect student interests and units of study.
• Why is this center available? Children learn to enjoy quiet reading time. They are able to explore a variety of subject areas. Children become aware of print and its role in providing pleasure and information.
• Materials: sand and water are most prominent. There will also be a variety of other materials such as dirt, snow, dried corn, rice, and shredded paper of various textures. This is a partial list of materials.
• Why is this center available? The most obvious reason is to provide young children with the experience of exploring different textures and other properties of materials. Depending upon what is utilized, this center is also used for measuring, creating landforms, animal habitats, roads, farms, and construction sites. Children may play separately or work cooperatively on a project that they plan and execute together.
Science or Nature Center
• Materials: microscope, magnifying glass, thermometer, materials from nature that children have selected and brought into class, plants and other items such as fish, hermit crabs, aquatic frogs, or an ant farm. Additional materials will directly reflect the science unit that is being studied.
• Why is the center available? This center encourages children to observe the world around them. They become acquainted with scientific tools and learn to ask questions in order to gain knowledge. They also learn to observe plants and animals through the lens of knowledge that they have gained. They will make predictions and learn from the results.
• Materials: large and small wooden blocks that are a variety of shapes and sizes. Other materials may be added such as animals, trucks, cars, boats, traffic signs, and people.
• Why is this center available? Learning to manipulate shapes in order to construct a map or building helps develop advanced mathematical thinking that goes beyond counting or computation. Children also learn to work cooperatively, respect the ideas of others, and gain skills in self-evaluation and critical thinking.
• Materials: paints, brushes, markers, white boards, crayons, colored pencils,, chalk, paper, glue, and a variety of other items such as feathers, beads, sequins, wallpaper, magazines, glitter and any material that the children find interesting that is conducive to creating art.
• Why is the center available? Children use this center to plan and create art. In the process of doing this, they learn to think creatively as well as manipulate handwriting tools. This involves learning proper grip and use. Children often come to this center to write words and illustrate their writing. This is the beginning of creative writing as well as the documentation of information. Children usually like to work on their own projects so they can take them home or give them as a gift to a friend. Occasionally, children will work together on a project and ask to have it displayed in the classroom.
Mathematics and Language Arts
• Materials: Manipulative materials for language arts will provide practice in letter recognition, letter sounds, rhyming words, initial medial and ending sounds, color words, number words, positional words (up, down, behind, under, above, beside). Manipulative materials for mathematics will provide practice in number recognition, counting on, quantity, measurement, beginning computation, shape recognition, and patterning.
• Why is this center available? High ability children have a wide range of skills in language arts and mathematics. These centers provide children a variety of ways to develop, reinforce, and learn new skills.
• Materials: kitchen materials, puppet show area, costumes, dolls, doll house.
• Why is this center available? Children learn to create a plot and enact the story through cooperation with other children. In order for this to work, children need to practice creative thinking, cooperation, and self-regulation. Learning how to plan a scenario is the beginning of learning how to plan a creative writing project or understand the plot of a story that has been read.
Teachers utilize centers in several ways. Children may be encouraged to explore their particular area of interest or they may be assigned to an area where they need additional skill development. Teachers will also monitor activity in centers and intervene when children need help with cooperation or planning. The next time you visit an early childhood classroom, I hope you will enjoy watching children working in centers and notice the skills and experience that they are gaining.